Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.
— Ambrose Redmoon (found at Quote of The Day Archives)
Doing NaNoWriMo this year is taking me out of my comfort zone. This is where critical growth happens as an author. Tread the path you’d rather avoid. I typically avoid “dark”, troubled characters. My personality is one I would term as “sunny”. Optimist doesn’t exactly cover my personality accurately, hence the term “sunny”. If you are familiar with Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter, that was me throughout my childhood. I naturally shy away from darker feelings, complaints, pessimism and depression. I’ve gone through difficult times and extreme stress. I just don’t believe I need to wallow in it. Wallowing won’t change anything, and I tell that to myself if I start feeling stonewalled. I plot out all logical courses available to me, search for win-win situations which seem acceptable, then make my decision.
Sounds like a good plan right? Yep, it works great in life and it keeps me in a positive frame of mind which fosters creativity and success. There’s a downside though. A writer cannot avoid the things which make him or her vulnerable. That is the very heart of what makes our writing amazing and personal. We must take not only those happy memories and feelings, but the gritty and difficult memories as well. We must momentarily hold onto those feelings of helplessness, exposure and depression. This is a fine line to walk, because we don’t want to send ourselves into some kind of tailspin, but it is through those feelings that we are able to achieve our growth. “Dark” characters are not always ones who achieve growth, but they tend to be the most richly-formed ones.
This novel that I’m writing for NaNoWriMo (and let me tell you, it is SO difficult to avoid editing) contains multiple dark characters. The very first scene simply popped into my head with the main character narrating in a second-person point-of-view. Yes, I have heard that the second person POV should be avoided. When that scene popped into my head, however, I knew that it could not be written any other way. That has never happened to me before. I typically feel as though it is beneficial to twist things around and change POV, among other things, to try and get the best “angle” in a story. The scene which popped into my head was initially so dark that it shocked me. Since this came from my brain, I am sure it sounds odd to have been surprised and shocked at my own idea. Nevertheless, for days before NaNoWriMo I brainstormed about any number of other stories I could create. In desperation I pulled out my notebook in which I jot down all my random writing ideas. While I found them interesting, there was nothing that grabbed me. The night before NaNoWriMo I was still waffling regarding the dark story that had suddenly clutched my mind with a vice-like grip.
When no other ideas grabbed my attention, I had to consider that I should write my dark story. Again my mind surprised me. I found that at some point, an entire story arc had already formulated in my mind and sat waiting for me to breathe life into it. I worry that because I’m naturally a sunny-type personality, I won’t be able to do justice to this story. I have to keep telling myself that the goal is to write the book, then go back and edit it to really flesh the characters out and create their full potential. I’m surprised at the moment that I have maintained an overall dark premise. All my normal “habits” have been turned on their heads and I have to admit that as a writer, that is scary. I never considered myself as someone who could classify their novel as “dark”, but I think this one will be. I know this is my growth as a writer, so I’m surging ahead with it, but I still fear the train wreck it could become.
I must fight my tendency to be lighthearted, must sacrifice it for the greater good of my character’s growth.
Anyone else wrestle with this? Did you have a total shift in writing style and gain anything because of it? I sure hope so because that is what I’m convincing myself will happen. I’m hoping I’ll learn a great deal and will be able to dramatically improve my writing skills.
Hope everyone doing NaNoWriMo is having a great time with the experience, keep up the hard work!
Also you can check out my previous post about never being lost or getting off the hamster wheel (whichever you prefer) if you missed it yesterday.